Mindfulness and the Mindful Coach

At the end of this sentence stop and please close your eyes and focus on the next 5 breaths you slowly breathe in and out. If you did and truly focused on each breath, you experienced a moment of mindfulness. You may have noticed the brain attempting to chatter away but the volume was down so low because your total attention was looking at, feeling and experiencing 5 breaths. Nothing more. Nothing less. Join us as we dive deeper into understanding: what is mindfulness? What are its benefits? How can it help coaches be of greater service to their own growth and transformation that benefits themselves and their clients personally and professionally always and all ways?



As a coach if you continued to read on, you experienced what you wanted to do. Why did you do what you did? Why do people do what they do? The two reasons are: 1) because you/they are able; 2) because you/they can. Anything else is an explanation, rationalization, excuse masquerading as a fact.


If the reader didn’t observe the 5 breaths they now have an opportunity for a do-over. This may be more difficult because of judging the author or themselves. By focusing on those 5 breaths, really focusing on each inhalation and exhalation feelings, emotions, thoughts are identified as feelings, emotions, thoughts. Nothing more. Nothing less.


In a moment, the realization is I am breathing and observing. I feel the air in my nostrils. I sense the expansion of my entire chest area. I am not thinking because my brain is focused on the experience of breathing. No judgment, just observing. My inner chatterbox for a moment is quieted and is allowed to rest and just be present for that moment.


This comment summarizes what mindfulness is about: It’s not what you think. Are you able to look at some object and just look at it? No words just observe.


Are you able to listen, really listen with total attention because there’s no mind-chatter or holding what you are going to say? It’s interesting that hidden in the word “listen” is the word “silent.”


Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition “Intentionally focusing attention on moment-to-moment experience without being swept up by judgments or preconceived ideas and expectations” pictures what those moments look like. No inner dialogue.


As a coach, our role is creating a relationship based on hearing what a client needs to hear based on trust and truth. The truth being the client is responsible for the life they are living and creating. The trust being they are capable of much better results than they are currently generating and they can generate their own better, more life-giving solutions


Mindfulness is a state of being non-judgmentally aware of one’s own experience moment-to-moment (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Mindfulness is “being in the moment.” A mindful coach practices and teaches “stop and smell the roses." Be present. Be present. Be present. Be aware. Be awake. Be here in this moment.


I have thoughts. I am not my thoughts. I have feelings. I am not my feelings. I have emotions. I am not my emotions. I have sensations. I am not my sensations. A difficult lesson to learn yet a life-making game changer.


That awareness of thought, emotion, perception, and overall experience are direct responses to a state of mindfulness. Research continues to uncover the many benefits of mindfulness for both coach and client.


Join us as we dive deeper into understanding: what is mindfulness? What are its benefits? How can it help coaches be of greater service to their own growth and transformation that benefits themselves and their clients personally and professionally always and all ways?


What is mindfulness?


“Intentionally focusing attention on moment-to-moment experience without being swept up by judgments or preconceived ideas and expectations.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD Scientist, Author, Professor

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines mindfulness as a state of “moment-to-moment awareness of one's experience without judgment” (Davis & Hayes, 2012). This awareness covers “thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment” (Mindfulness Definition, n.d.). For coaches and clients accepting their emotions without judgment towards a circumstance, they are better able to respond instead of reacting to events or situations. It is simply an event in which I have a choice of how to respond. Mindfulness allows the coach or client to “live in the moment,” free of distractions, acknowledge their current emotions and focus on the task or challenge at hand.


Traits of those who are mindful


Mindful individuals are overcomers

According to Brendel and Stamell of the Harvard Business Review, mindfulness development programs, “can help emerging leaders to identify and overcome their limiting beliefs, behavior patterns, and interpersonal difficulties” (2016). You can refer back to my article on how the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy have benefited the world of coaching.


Leaders are better able to tackle the problems they face with greater success when they are mindful of their limiting beliefs, personal tendencies, and interpersonal challenges involved in the situation at hand. A mindful coach or client is less likely to get stuck in the same patterns of unhelpful thinking, feeling and doing. They face challenges as overcomers. They understand their own weaknesses and shortcomings. They face them by processing the situation from a mindful perspective.

Mindful individuals have an increased sense of well-being


“Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur” and “helps you become fully engaged in activities” (Benefits of Mindfulness, n.d.). Mindfulness allows individuals to fully appreciate being alive during daily interactions and relationships. “Be Here Now” takes on a life changing perspective when not distracted by previous challenges or future plans. There is a continuous acknowledgement of feelings of appreciation and happiness. One takes greater note of the positive things in life. This increased awareness and appreciation for positivity leads to an overall sense of increased well-being.


Mindful individuals support mental and physical health


Mindfulness directly affects the health of body and mind. An article by HelpGuide and Harvard Health states that mindfulness can “help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties” (Benefits of Mindfulness, n.d.). Many of these identified physical conditions are closely related to stress and its effects on the body. Mindfulness helps reduce these physical challenges, by getting to the root cause of stress.


I have seen the profound positive results of mindfulness training and programs over my 25 years working with cardiac patients at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and UCSD’s Intensive Cardiac Rehab program. By using mindfulness to accept experiences, emotions, and challenges that come, I have seen how it changed patients and reduced their anxiety, worry, fear, pain, and stress.


Again this is where coaches have benefited from the impact of the past 30 years of Positive Psychology. Mindfulness techniques have been used by therapists to treat a number of mental health conditions such as depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, and OCD (Benefits of Mindfulness, n.d.) However, many of these same methods have been carried over into improving the lives of all people. One example is how it “boosts the working memory” according to the APA (Davis & Hayes, 2012). The development of a mindful state of being is essential for preventing mental and physical challenges caused by stress and helps overall memory retention.


Coaches, remember that creativity and innovation cannot take place where fear and anxiety reside.


Mindful individuals develop impactful relationships


It takes mindfulness to make a relationship grow. Mindful individuals create better, deeper connections and relationships. (Davis & Hayes, 2012). They are able to identify, acknowledge and accept their own emotions as emotions they are feeling. Their thoughts as thoughts they are thinking. Deep relationships also require attention and intentionality. Mindful individuals perform better on all “measures of attention” (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Mindfulness allows individuals to focus on the emotions of self and others while maintaining greater attention to the needs, comments, and requests of the other person.


Traits of those without mindfulness


“People have motives and thoughts of which they are unaware.” - Albert Ellis, Psychologist

Mindfulness is a state of mind. It is something that takes time to develop and must be intentionally practiced. Dr. Tasha Eurich states that “95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are” (2018). A Forbes article by John Hall outlines eight characteristics of individuals who lack self-awareness or do not practice mindfulness (2019).


Idea bias

The questions from a coach help the client uncover and become aware of their own biases and failings. How is this working for you? What do others contribute? Are there any other ideas that would work or even be better? Do others have better ideas than you? Is it hard to accept their ideas? What’s that about? Tell me more.


Discouragement

“Without realizing it, they say things that discourage people” states Hall in his Forbes article (2019). These individuals often don’t recognize the contributions or efforts of other coworkers. This can lead to communicating discouraging statements to others and reducing the overall effectiveness of the team as a whole. How do you champion people on your team? How do you encourage your people? How do you reach out to others who are struggling? What are you doing to become a more competent team member?


Failure to take perspective

Taking perspective requires awareness of others’ emotions. When making group decisions or negotiating contracts, perspective-taking is a vital tool. Being unaware of others emotions and feelings make it difficult to see things as others would (Hall, 2019). Can you imagine how the other person sees it? What do you think they are feeling when you speak that way? What made them say that to you? What does this statement mean: When the knife is in my back why are my fingerprints on it? Let’s go up to the balcony and look down on you and your team. What do you see?


Difficulty taking ownership of mistakes

These individuals cannot see the whole picture or the “why” of a consequence. When mistakes are made, these individuals deflect ownership. Instead of seeing mistakes as a result of their decisions made, they project the mistakes onto other people (Hall,2019). In all these situations you’ve shared, what’s the one common thread? Isn’t that an assumption? What would/could be another explanation? What did you do so that this would never happen again? When this all started, who owned the problem? What part of this problem do you own?


Difficulty receiving negative feedback

When receiving negative feedback, these individuals might view the feedback as a personal attack and respond defensively. They fail to view the situation in the context of a work environment. They view it as a personal rejection of their efforts rather than supporting the group objectives as a corporate whole (Hall,2019). What would you say to a person who did ___________? What needs to be done so that the feedback you received will never occur again? If you were coaching yourself, what would you need to do or say to make this feedback go away? What made you think it was a personal attack? What did you learn from that feedback? How could you look at it differently?


Failure to accept multiple interpretations

These individuals often surround themselves with people that agree with them. They fail to see the benefits of different approaches and opinions. The lack of this encourages a singular environment where opposing or different ideas are not considered. (Hall,2019). How is this working for you? If every player on the team was a MVP quarterback, could they win the Super Bowl? Why not? If everyone agrees with you, you only have one perspective. Is that a good idea? If you have a wingman, they are looking out for your best interest. Would it help to tell you if they saw something different than you that could do you in? Have you ever thought that everything you think is an interpretation because no one has shared all your life experiences or sees it just as you do? Have you ever thought that if you know something and it’s incorrect you won’t be able to correct it?


Overconfidence in contribution

These individuals will often overestimate their contribution to the organization as a whole. These individuals do not see the gaps, failings and deficiencies in their own performance. (Hall,2019).


A role description starts with: I will be better tomorrow than I was today doing my job. This means every day. How are you growing to be the best______________ in this company, in this industry, in this country, in the world? Knowing that the measurement of performance is: Performance; would you consider yourself the best _______ in the company or your industry? What would you need to do or start doing to perform at that level? Would your peers or those above you consider you as a role model doing ___________?


Inability to adapt communication

When speaking to different cultures, companies, coworkers, or executive leaders, these individuals are unable to adapt their communication. This is an essential skill in the global economy and it is vital for organizations to adapt to different cultural standards and practices. The inability to adapt has the potential to offend others and negatively affect corporate reputation or their existence (Hall,2019).


It’s interesting that “Adaptability” has become so significant in the world today. It occurs when what is needed are more than technical solutions or existing knowledge and workflows to be solved. Those with unknown solutions require innovation, experimentation, and adaptation to survive. Adaptability requires new thinking, and people willing and able to make that transition.


The mindful coach


“Those who are silent, self-effacing, and attentive become the recipients of confidences.” -Thornton Wilder, playwright and novelist

Truly, mindfulness is a valuable tool for all coaches in their ongoing work with all clients. This would be particularly true when coaching people in leadership positions. When working with them individually or in peer advisory groups, it is vital that coaches practice while also helping their clients to practice empathy and compassion, motivate strategically, and remain intentionally attentive to clients.


Empathy and compassion

Coaches with a greater amount of mindfulness have more empathy and compassion for the clients with whom they interact. This empathy and compassion help build the coach/client relationship and enables the coach to gain a greater perspective of the client’s situation. By mindfully understanding the client’s emotions and outlook on their situation, coaches can better navigate the coaching process (Davis & Hayes, 2012).


Strategic questioning to get to intrinsic motivation

The mark of a great coach is to help the client find what intrinsically motivates them. First understand that one person cannot motivate another person to do anything. Think about it. A motive is a goal or purpose of one’s actions. Motivation is about causing others to do, or be, in ways consistent with your intentions. Can you motivate a person to become a concert pianist? A world class golf professional?


Remember coaching is about assisting the client create their own better solutions. While “strategically motivated” might be understood as considering the current situation of the client, would that be seen as manipulation?. Motivation is saying “You can do it!”, while the strategic question would be “What are some skills you have that will aid in this situation?” This question opens for the client to identify their own skills and cultivate their own belief that this may be a way to accomplish their goals. It is helping the client discover the path or possible ways to achieve the goal(s) they set for themselves. Coaches who coach in a mindful state are better able to strategically ask questions and offer insight into the intrinsic motivation to do what they need to do to accomplish their goals


Attentive

Mindful coaches are more attentive and aware of their client’s needs, goals, and thought processes. The APA states that when individuals invest in their mindfulness they can become more “attentive” to the coaching process and “more attuned with themselves” and others (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Mindfulness aids coaches to stay focused, listen deeply and make better choices on what questions to ask to open their client to better thinking, being and doing.


In research by Newsome et al., l therapists were shown to be more “attentive to the therapy process” and “more comfortable with silence” after undergoing mindfulness training (2006). While therapists and coaches are different professions, coaches, therapists, patients and clients all benefit in similar ways to mindfulness training.


Mindful coaches are better able to stay attentive to the coaching process, helping their clients achieve their highest potential over a series of sessions. Mindful coaches are also “more comfortable with silence” (Newsome et al., 2006). In the words of Glenn Waring from episode #1006 of the Arete Coach podcast, letting “silence do the heavy lifting” is a skill that coaches use to spur their clients on to deeper thought and contemplation. Mindful coaches are better able to be attentive, maintain attention through the coaching process, and remain comfortable with silence (Davis & Hayes, 2012).


What does it all mean?


Mindfulness is a state of non-judgmental awareness of current emotions, thoughts, and experiences (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Mindfulness helps individuals overcome obstacles, increase their sense of well-being, and develop meaningful relationships. With mindfulness, individuals are more focused and have a more holistic view of a current situation’s details, leading them to be more encouraged and at the same time to be more encouraging to others. With that kind of mindset one is even able to see a positive side in negative feedback.


For coaches specifically, embracing mindfulness can help them have empathy and compassion and be intentionally attentive to their coaching clients.


A mindful coach opens to their clients a path to lead themselves because of the way they now observe being present. From parents as mindful leaders of their families to mindful leaders of world organizations.


As coaches develop their own skills, successful outcomes and reputation their role can grow into a coach of leaders of leaders. Being a mindful coach of leaders helps you support your clients in their goal achievements. For them as mindful leaders you help them make a greater impact in their workplace, their people, their families, their community and a legacy they leave for generations to come.


“Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.” – Corita Kent, American Roman Catholic religious sister, artist, designer, and educator.

References

“Benefits of Mindfulness.” HelpGuide.org, www.helpguide.org/harvard/benefits-of-mindfulness.htm#:~:text=Mindfulness improves physical health.&text=Mindfulness can: help relieve stress,sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.

Davis, Daphne M., and Jeffrey A. Hayes. What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? American Psychological Association, 2012, www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.

Eurich, Tasha. “Working with People Who Aren't Self-Aware.” Harvard Business Review, 19 Oct. 2018, hbr.org/2018/10/working-with-people-who-arent-self-aware.

Hall, John. How To Work With People Who Aren't Self-Aware. Forbes Magazine, 17 Feb. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2019/02/17/how-to-work-with-people-who-arent-self-aware/?sh=6c1f28273ea9.


Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2005) Coming to Our Senses. New York: Hyperion

“Mindfulness Definition: What Is Mindfulness.” Greater Good Magazine, greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition.


Newsome, Sandy, et al. “Teaching Counselors Self-Care Through Mindfulness Practices.” Teachers College Record, vol. 108, no. 9, Sept. 2006, pp. 1881–1900., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00766.x.





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